Green Wheels: Electric vehicles an imperative for a cleaner Delhi

Electric vehicles an imperative for a cleaner Delhi

Pollution levels in Delhi have assumed significant proportions over the past few years, resulting in very poor ambient air quality. The average PM (particulate matter) 2.5 level has shown an increase from 153 in 2013 to 226 in 2015, far exceeding the safe levels of 60. The illustration on the real-time ambient Air Quality Index (AQI) for Delhi substantiates the fact.

A major cause for the increasing air pollution in Delhi is emissions by vehicles. The city has witnessed a steep rise in the number of road vehicles in the past decade. This has not only made traffic unmanageable with daily congestion, but has also surged the pollution levels, increasing the level of toxins in the air far beyond the permissible limits of air quality standards set by the World Health Organization. Vehicular traffic accounts for more than two-thirds of the greenhouse gases produced in the city. It is fast turning Delhi into a gas chamber and posing health hazards for its residents.

The only solution is to make an immediate shift to electric vehicles (e-vehicles). In order to make that happen at a fast pace, all stakeholders need to make efforts. Studies by several research organisations have revealed that e-vehicles produce less tailpipe emissions per mile than conventional gas or diesel-powered vehicles. These eco-friendly vehicles can be a boon for Delhi, reportedly the world’s most polluted city.

The state government has an important role to play in expediting the shift towards e-vehicles. It should initiate an e-public transport system and encourage people to buy e-vehicles for a cleaner tomorrow.

Reducing end-consumer retail power tariffs

Another interesting side of the story is that shifting to e-vehicles can become a double boon for the residents of Delhi. While on the one hand it will bring down pollution levels and improve the ambient air quality, on the other, it will help discoms lower their power procurement costs and ultimately bring about a reduction in retail tariffs.

Delhi has a typical load curve with the load varying from 3,500 MW to 6,000 MW in the summer months (May-October) and from 2,000 MW to 4,000 MW in the winter months (November-April). There is also huge variation of 1,500-2,000 MW in this load between peak and off-peak hours during the same day. Being the capital, discoms have made sufficient power arrangements to make sure that they are able to comfortably service the peak demand of their consumers with no load shedding. However, this energy security has a downside to it. Since long-term power is available only on a round-the-clock basis under long-term power purchase agreements, this has straddled the discoms with huge surpluses during off-peak hours and winter months. It is also unfortunate that Delhi has an allocation of power from some of the most expensive power plants in India, which has increased power procurement costs as compared to other states.

This surplus power is currently being disposed of through power exchanges. However, over the past few years, prices at the exchanges have dropped as states in a tight liquidity position are resorting to load shedding rather than purchasing power from the exchanges. Since the prices on the exchanges are low during the off-peak period, disposing of the surplus by selling power on the exchanges creates an adverse impact on the overall power purchase cost of Delhi discoms and retail tariffs.

With the introduction of dynamic pricing as per time-of-day (ToD) use, low tariffs can be designed for e-vehicles to promote charging during off-peak hours. This will simultaneously help to flatten the demand curve and enable utilities to lower the overall power purchase costs by evaluating options to break out of expensive contracts, which today support peak power requirements.

At present, e-vehicles are very few in number and are primarily used as last-mile public transportation (scooters, e-rickshaws, etc.). Delhi has approximately 100,000 e-rickshaws and the number is expected to grow by 10 per cent on a year-on-year basis.

E-autos, e-taxis and e-buses are not in use in India yet. Therefore, the “Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India” scheme formulated by the Ministry of Heavy Industries as part of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, 2020 envisages covering two-wheelers, three-wheelers, passenger vehicles and buses.

Special tariff mechanisms can also be designed to encourage e-vehicles to utilise power during off-peak hours. It is worth mentioning that during off-peak hours, surplus power results in a loss to discoms for disposing it off on energy exchanges. This special tariff mechanism can be a win-win situation for all. An examination of the existing load curve of Delhi demonstrates that there is sufficient excess capacity during off-peak hours to charge the total expected e-vehicle load.

As per our research, the expected load of bringing autos, taxis and buses in the e-charging mode along with e-rickshaws will be 1,013 MW pan-Delhi. Delhi, which is power surplus during off-peak hours and loses heavily by selling this surplus in the market at dismally low rates, can efficiently utilise this power to charge vehicles. This will reduce commercial losses on account of the sale of surplus power, thereby preventing tariff increases and curbing pollution significantly. It would also provide a cheaper fuel option to commercial vehicle owners as the per-km cost run on electricity is cheaper as compared to that of compressed natural gas (CNG).

Monetary benefits of public transport electric vehicles

Apart from environmental benefits, e-vehicles promise huge monetary benefits for owners and government-owned public and private transport systems. If new ToD tariffs are introduced for charging e-vehicles, it could result in considerable savings for the public as well as vehicle owners, especially given that CNG prices are at Rs 36.85 per kg. The savings for public transport could be in the range of 30-40 per cent over the present cost of running vehicles on CNG.

There is also the option of state governments exploring and introducing the transport service company model, similar to the energy service company model, wherein private developers can be asked to invest in the e-vehicle transport system and the savings generated over CNG transport can be used during the initial years to pay for the required capital expenditure of the transport. This model will also obviate the need for additional capital expenditure by the state exchequer.

Multiple benefits

Considering the benefits of e-transportation, it is imperative that Delhi makes a shift towards e-vehicles. The Government of NCT of Delhi, and the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission should also work towards a greener and cleaner Delhi, taking into account the rising problems and the possible solutions, which would also help reduce electricity tariffs.

  • Reduction in power purchase costs by 8-10 paise per unit in end-consumer retail tariffs
  • Reduction in air pollution and noise levels
  • Savings in fuel costs for vehicles as the cost of electricity is cheaper than that of CNG.
  • Less consumption of CNG, a scarce non-renewable natural resource.

Electric vehicles are undoubtedly the future of mobility the world over and speedier adoption will surely dive us to a safer and more sustainable future.